& COOKING ARTICLE
is Balsamic Vinegar? Traditional Balsamic Vinegar
Jonathan Arthur of Italy
are all familiar with Balsamic Vinegar these days but
most of us only with the industrial type, this being
a copy of the original. If it comes in a half litre
bottle or does not make you gasp at the price, it will
almost certainly be the copy.
The original dates back to Roman times, back then refined
sugar wasn't around, even when it did arrive in the
1400s it was dreadfully expensive. Anyone with a sweet
tooth had pretty much two choices, honey or reduced
grape juice. To make the latter, white grapes were allowed
to mature, maximising the sugar content. They were then
pressed and the juice boiled for many hours, reducing
its volume to a half or third of the original.
The result was sweet and syrupy, easy to keep being
too concentrated for yeasts to ferment and great for
putting in your cooking. However grapes only get harvested
in the autumn, so the syrup had to be stored, often
in wooden barrels, for use during the rest of the year.
At some point someone must have left a barrel of the
stuff, forgotten in a store room for many years and
going back to it found it now contained a thick dark,
bitter-sweet liquid, the first, primitive Balsamic vinegar.
By the middle ages the process had become very complex.
Rather than one barrel there were now five, sometimes
even seven, these were of diminishing volumes and different
woods: chestnut, acacia, cherry, oak, ash and juniper.
are filled with the reduced grape juice and left in
an attic. To get the best results very cold winters
and very hot summers are needed, Modena in Emilia Romagna,
northern Italy has just this climate. During the summer
some of the liquid evaporates and some disappears as
gasses due to a type of bacteriological fermentation.
In the winter, when the vinegar is dormant, the smallest
of the barrels is topped up from the next biggest, this
in turn is filled by its bigger brother and so on until
the biggest is filled with produce from the autumn's
harvest. This goes on for a minimum of twelve years,
after which about half of the contents of the smallest
barrel is bottled and the topping up process repeated.
From now on a small amount can be taken every year.
The only way to be sure of the best quality Balsamic
is to buy that supplied by members of one of the two
"Consorzio"s, bodies that control and guarantee
authenticity. Labelled either Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale
di Modena or Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Reggio
Emilia, ("Tradizionale" is the important word),
these are sold as twelve, twenty-five, fifty and one
hundred years old depending upon when the ageing process
There are various producers making excellent Balsamics
who are not members of a Consorzio, either because their
vines are grown outside of the accepted area, or simply
because they want to go their own way. Some have made
interesting varieties using barrels of only one wood
such as cherry or juniper, these produce their own distinctive
flavour. However it is difficult to tell just from the
label how good the contents will be.
Next in line for quality are Balsamic vinegars which
start life as an industrial product. These are then
blended with the real thing, often spending a few years
in oak barrels.
The least expensive and easiest to find, start life
as a red wine vinegar, added to this is caramelized
sugar, flavourings, colourings, and quite often a thickener
such as corn flour. The annual production of all the
members of the "Consorzio Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale
di Modena" is less than that produced in a day
by a medium sized industrial factory.
oldest traditional Balsamic vinegar is the most treacly,
so it sticks nicely to fruit, ice cream and cold savouries.
It's absolutely delicious dropped onto shards of parmesan
younger traditional Balsamic vinegars have more fragrance
and are also a bit more vinegary, so best used
with cooked veggies, on steak or even a boiled egg
. . . your salivary glands go crazy even before the
food reaches your mouth. Neither of the traditional
varieties should be cooked.
industrial version of Balsamic vinegar is fine for
braising meat and in most cooking recipes. Putting
a few drops of the real stuff into the mass produced
version, will also make an enormous difference to
balsamic vinegar article was provided by Jonathan
Arthur who runs Italy
with Relish cooking and villa holidays in
the Tuscany region of Italy.
details of the cooking holidays <click
here> or visit www.italywithrelish.it
18 February 2009
Hub-UK : firstname.lastname@example.org